I remember being scared to death of Ridley Scott's Alien when I was a kid. To be honest, it still scares me a bit to this day. You would think that most of the facts surrounding its filming would be common knowledge to fans. Oddly enough, I did not know the following list of ten things that io9 put together. From The Who's involvement in the film to Sigourney Weaver's audition outfit, there are some awesome facts below.
Here is the list featured in a new book titled Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film:
That famous "chestburster" scene was just as horrifying for the actors. None of them quite knew what was coming, as you might have heard. The book is full of great details about how far Ridley Scott went to keep them in the dark. "If the actor is justacting terrified," Scott is quoted as saying, "you can't get the genuine look." And the stuff coming out of John Hurt's chest isn't just stage blood — there's a whole bunch of "freshly steamed offal" from the local abbatoir: "cow, sheep, and pig intestines in general, plus a few parcels that defied categorization." Thanks to the studio lights, the animal innards were at least half-cooked by the time they came flying out, courtesy of a compressed-air cartridge. (And similarly, 30 pounds of pig intestines were ejected along with the alien egg aboard the derelict.)
We owe Alien to the failure of Jodorowsky's Dune. Writer Dan O'Bannon was hired to design special effects on Alejandro Jodorowsky's bizarre adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, which would have featured Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali among others. When Jodorowsky's Dune fell through, O'Bannon was so shattered he had a nervous breakdown and spent some time in a mental institution. When he returned to Hollywood, penniless, he had nothing to do but finish co-writing a half-finished screenplay about an alien loose on a spaceship.
Roger Corman almost made Alien. Corman, who was in his heyday with films like Battle Beyond the Stars, was excited by O'Bannon and Ron Shusett's screenplay, originally calledGremlins and now renamed Starbeast. Corman's version would have been much different — for one thing, O'Bannon and Shusett's version of the script was much more Lovecraftian and the dialogue was much less deadpan and matter-of-fact. All of the characters were male and one-dimensional, with names like Cleave Hunter and Chaz Standard. Plus Corman would have made it for a few pennies — but after Star Wars hit big, suddenly studios were willing to spend real money on space films.
There's an actual blueprint of the Nostromo, as well as a detailed schematic. If you've ever wanted to understand the geography of that claustrophobic ship, these ultra-detailed drawings will be a huge help. You also get to see Ron Cobb's early Nostromo sketches, which are all about function — he remarks that he always designs spaceships as if they were absolutely real, "right down to the fuel tolerances, the centers of gravity, the way the engines function, radiation shielding, whatever." There are also Chris Foss's more fanciful Nostromo drawings. (And apparently in the original screenplay, this ship was called the Snark, in a wry Alice in Wonderland reference.)
H.R. Giger almost didn't get hired. Producer Gordon Carroll, with 20th Century Fox, was appalled when he saw Giger's art, saying "This man is sick." And thus, Fox decided to dispense with the services of Giger as well as Chris Foss. Ridley Scott had to fly to Zurich to beg Giger to come back. Giger had a team of 150 craftsmen working on the alien chamber, using boiled animal bones fresh from a slaughterhouse to make moulds for the derelict ship's walls. Scott was attracted to Giger's work, in part, because you can't tell if it's biological or mechanical — an ambiguity he was eager to explore further in Blade Runner.
The Nostromo was a self-contained set. Long before Duncan Jones sealed himself and his film crew inside the moonbase in Moon, and Joss Whedon built the Serenity as one complete set, Ridley Scott had a spaceship set that you couldn't get out of except by walking all the way through it. The actors felt trapped inside the set, adding to the film's realism. And with time and money running out, Scott didn't have time to light a lot of the scenes — he just adjusted the ambient lighting in the corridors and kept going. But budgetary constraints meant that production designer Michael Seymour had to abandon his plans to build a single complete Nostromo set, three storeys high, so that actors would have to climb down companionways from one level to another.
The Who's Roger Daltrey gave us the weird light show when the facehuggers are awoken. Remember that carckle of electric blue light when the Nostromo crew disturbs the resting place of the facehuggers? It's thanks to Roger Daltrey — the singer and his crew were in a villa next to Shepperton Studios, experimenting with laser beams for their next tour, and they let Ridley Scott borrow their gear.
Yaphet Kotto was so dedicated to improv, he thought he could change the movie's ending. Every day the actor would greet the harried Ridley Scott with a giant list of ideas about how they could improve his scenes. And on the day that his character, Parker, was supposed to die, Kotto chased after Scott, shouting, "I am not going to die! I am going to beat that alien." So Scott had the Alien (Eddie Powell) warn him which entrance Kotto was hiding at, so Scott's cameras (and the Alien) could catch him by surprise.
Sigourney Weaver wore thigh-high hooker boots to her audition. Even she doesn't quite remember why she was wearing those. She couldn't have looked less like Ripley, but at least they made her look tall and imposing.
It's a myth that the ten-minute self-destruct countdown unfolds in real-time. People often claim that those 10 minutes last exactly 10 minutes on screen — but they don't. Critic Roz Kaveney timed it, and found that the first two minutes take only 20 seconds, while the second two minutes take 30 seconds. The first nine minutes take about six minutes, and then you're in real time for the final minute.
The book is well-worth the price of admission. It also has some great information about the lore used in the creation of Scott's Prometheus, which I am very excited to see. There are some cool reproductions of storyboards, concept art and early sketches from artists such as: H.R. Giger, Moebius, Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, and Scott himself.